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IC design curve slowing down in Korea, Taiwan

Posted: 01 Jun 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Tracy Carpena? IC design? design house?

After reporting remarkable growth in 2004, Korea and Taiwan IC design industries made little progress in 2005, according to the IC Design House Surveys conducted separately by EE Times-Korea and EE Times-Taiwan in February this year.

Results show that IC design companies' total sales in Korea increased only slightly, despite high expectations in 2004. Meanwhile, Taiwan's 2005 growth rate stood at 9.3 percent, a far cry from the previous year's 37 percent increase.

Among the survey respondents, only 7.7 percent were involved in DSP-related projects, down from 33.3 percent in 2004. SoC projects, on the other hand, were undertaken by 56.4 percent of those polled as compared with the previous year's 46.7 percent. The growth was attributed to the advent of flexible hardware architectures and the integration of DSP functions into hardware.

With competition in the camera module business getting tighter, Korea's IC design industry is moving toward digital multimedia broadcast (DMB) and multimedia chipsets. Many Korea IC design companies are developing handset-related products, hoping to win supply deals with large handset makers like Samsung, LG and Pantech&Curitel. However, only a few companies were able to achieve revenue increases.

In Taiwan, 61.4 percent of the companies surveyed were involved in ASIC design projects. Meanwhile, 28.1 percent were into standard IC design, and 19.3 percent into ASSP design, with PLD/FPGA-based design and MCM design each accounting for 7 percent.

The key process technology in both markets was 0.18m. In Korea, use of the 0.18m process increased, making it the mainstream process node. Most Taiwan companies use this process for analog, digital and mixed-signal ICs designs. In the analog IC design sector, 24.6 percent of the companies chose the 0.18m process. Among digital IC designers, 38.6 percent favored this process, which was also the choice of 33.3 percent of mixed-signal IC designers. Overall, the number of Taiwan companies using the 0.13m and 0.18m process nodes increased slightly from the previous year.

Design challenges
The biggest design challenge for companies in Korea is cost, followed by cycle time and IP verification. Comparing 2004 and 2005 survey results, the percentage of those who considered IP verification a major challenge doubled from 16.7 percent to 33.7 percent.

The Taiwan IC design industry's biggest design challenge is cycle time, which was cited by 59.6 percent of the respondents. Cost came in at second with 50.9 percent, while IP availability ranked third with 22.8 percent.

Korean companies are attempting to reduce cost by selecting more inexpensive manufacturing processes. Moreover, they are planning to establish a new and more stable production base by using foreign foundries, and catch up with mainland China's market by diversifying sales channels. In 2005, the percentage of companies relying on distributors increased to 15.4 percent.

With the design challenges confronting the industry, Taiwan engineers are looking for methods to develop highly-integrated chips more efficiently. This implies that Taiwan IC design houses are expecting IP and EDA tool vendors to provide them with more advanced solutions.

- Tracy Carpena
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

Joy Teng and Joh Yoon-ju contributed to this article.

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